Amid the nationwide lockdown and low economic activity the Covid-19 pandemic has wrought, there is a salutary feature in the macro-economy with record foodgrains stocks in the national granary. This has raised hopes that the marginalized and people without means can breathe easy. The government is determined to make adequate use of this cornucopia.
Foodgrains stocks in the central pool stood at a whopping 73.85 million tonnes (mt) as on the start of the current fiscal year, April 1, 2020. This is by far the highest ever and is also three-and-a-half times the minimum operational-cum-strategic reserve requirement of 21.04 mt. Ever since his periodic parleys with the State Chief Ministers in the ongoing lockdown phase, Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his fourth digital confabulation, highlighted the urgent need to usher in reforms that touch the lives of the common people across the country. This reassuring remark from the Prime Minister has not come a day too soon even as there is a debate on lives versus livelihoods in the virtual universe in the absence of public discourses due to the pandemic.
A breakup of the overflowing stocks in the granary of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) consists of 49.15mt of rice which is 3.6 times the normative minimum of 13.58 mt for April 1 and wheat stocks of 24.7 mt which were 3.3 times the required level of 7.46 mt for April 1, when the procurement season for the new crop also commenced.
It may be noted that the procurement policy of the Indian government is open-ended by which paddy and wheat offered by farmers within the stipulated span are purchased for central pool at minimum support price (MSP) by the FCI/State governments or state government agencies to help farmers get remunerative return and preclude any distress sale. The social cost of bearing the support price to farmers is borne in the form of food subsidy to the agrarian sector for its abiding contribution to keep the granaries full round the year for distribution to the rest of the populace.
The government has been acting on a cautious note on this count as the nation should not be held hostage from “ship to mouth”era of the past when the country had to be literally reliant on imported foodgrains to fill the domestic consumers’ essential needs for existence.
Thanks to the “green revolution”, various extension initiatives and concrete measures to mitigate the gamble of monsoon faced by the farmers, the country has been reaping good harvests year after year. No wonder that all-India foodgrains output which stood at 197 mt at the dawn of the millennium (2000-01) has zoomed to 292 mt by 2019-20 with the government constantly extending support to agrarian sections through specific programmes. They include, among others, the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana, a sort of direct income support of six thousand rupees per year launched in February 2019 and the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Maan Dhan Yojana, a sort of pension benefit for farmers on attaining the age of 60.
The Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana relief package of March 27, would relieve the distress of people as it helps distribution of excess foodgrains stocks, while the National Food Security Act covering three-fourths of all rural and half of all urban households gives additional five kilograms of rice/wheat free of cost; over and above the sale of 5 kg of wheat at Rs 2 per kg or rice at Rs 3 per kg per month from April to June, would help dispose off the stocks.
With such helpful policies in place, the Indian farmers have displayed resilience to weather any natural mishaps to stay focused on the core task of cultivation to fulfil the fundamental needs of the nation. India’s farmers are the real buffers and frontline soldiers against any threat posed by the elements.
Script: G.Srinivasan, Senior Economic Journalist